Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reworking a failed passage

Sisyphus, by Titian


As those of you who read my blog already know, I fight like hell to get my paintings to work. The more you learn about painting, the harder it gets. Eventually it will become too hard for me to do at all.

IT ONLY MATTERS WHAT THE PAINTING ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE, NOT HOW LONG IT TOOK OR HOW HARD YOU HAD TO WORK TO MAKE IT!

Sometimes a passage (or area) of a painting just doesn't work. Here is one of those. Its time to give this One a second chance! This is a group of rocks in the middle of a seascape. After struggling for days with it, finally I decided to rip the whole thing out and have another go at it. It was time for a fresh start. Because I worked a long time trying to get these rocks right, I built up a lot more paint than I wanted. Above is the failed passage, that has been sand papered down. I wanted to get the surface back to flat and level so I could start over and not have pentimenti (ridges from the previous brushstrokes) visible under my newly applied paint.

First I scraped the surface with the side of my offset, leaf shaped palette knife to get as much of the paint off as I could. Then I sanded it until it was flat with 80 grit sandpaper. I wet sanded it by dipping my sandpaper in mineral spirits. Then I finished it off with the 150 (sand paper with a higher number is finer). I think I get better results wet sanding, but also I don't want all the dust from my pigments flying up into the air for me to breathe, if I wet sand the painting that doesn't happen. I wear nitrile gloves when I paint so I didn't get the resultant toxic slurry all over my hands and abdomen.

I had been trying to just " invent" the rocks, something I am sometimes able to do. It wasn't working for me this time so I needed to hire a model. Above is my "model". Those are two pieces of anthracite coal picked up from an old railroad bed in Vermont. I have a box of about twenty of these and I use them for just this purpose. I have sprayed them with krylon to give them a little more reflective surface. Anthracite coal looks a lot like ocean rocks, it has facets and unusual shapes. I can look at it and use those shapes to create rocks in a seascape that don't look too "man made". It is necessary to simplify them or only use some parts of them, but it really helps to imagine the forms and the different planes turning against the light.

I have a clamp light with a 40 watt "daylight colored" bulb in it at the same angle I want my light to be hitting the rocks that I intend to paint. This little tableau is on a wooden shelf cantilevered out from the wall right next to my easel at just below my eye level ( I am 32 feet tall, and weigh over 1600 pounds).

Below are the rocks, redux. I have elongated the rock on the left, I needed it to fit into a particular area of the painting. I have also thrown some color in there, sometimes the coal looks great painted it's actual color, but in this case I wanted a red-orange Cape Ann granite.


Perhaps if I ever get this painting finished I will post it so you can see how it comes out. I still have a fair amount of refinement to do on this area, but you can see what I am up to.

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There is still room in Snowcamp. The first session is filled but the second still has a few spaces. If you would like to come you can sign up here. Snowcamp happens at a big old wooden inn high on a ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The inn overlooks the Cannon Mountain and the Presidential range. We paint outside just out the back door of the inn so if you get cold you can run inside and warm up by the fire. The Sunset Hill Inn takes good care of us and everything we need is right there. I park my car and forget it while I am there. Snowcamp is a three day total immersion experience that runs from breakfast until well after dinner. It is a great way to meet other painters and learn how to work outside in the winter. Snow painting is my favorite thing, and I will show you some of the tricks I have picked up in my about 30 years of painting it.

23 comments:

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

That's a great idea, using little rocks as stand-ins for the big rocks. One might extend the idea, perhaps, and do the same with twigs (for trees) and the like. The Japanese, who made those horrible 50s sci-fi movies with scale models, had the right idea.

Tim said...

James Gurney has an excellent book on the subject called "Imaginative Realism". I hope we get to see that painting Stape!

rahina q.h. said...

it is so true that the time spent on a painting is irrelevant and the more one paints the more stupid one feels (i talk for myself)... and paintings are taking longer than ever to complete... a lot has to do with my own expectations, visions etc.
thank you for the post and tips.
r.

Deb said...

Who was it that said, "Painting is very easy to do when you don't know how, and very difficult when you do"?
so true...
That re-deax is looking good.

Bill Hibberd said...

For a pile of rocks and a wash of water that is one dynamic picture. Really engaging. Exemplifies the idea that simple subjects can be mined for real treasure. Thanks for sharing your process again Stapleton, and for reminding us to be safe with our materials.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

I have a painting that I have been working on forever. I WILL make it work. When I have to do this with a piece I always learn something. They are lessons hard won, but necessary so I don't fall into the same pit again. It is comforting to know that even someone as expert as you Stape still has problems every now and then. Now I don't feel so bad for "beating this thing to death" as my husband says.

mariandioguardi.com said...

OK..you got it. Now back to work...there are other parts waiting.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! I was happy to see you left the surrounding area of those rocks, It reads well! (I could hear the 'boiling' of the water.)

Is it nesessary to be so picky? Is there perfection to obtain? Or are we chasing the wind?

(you don't have to answer, I'm just sayin')

Susan Renee Lammers said...

Stape! You never cease to amaze me! Thank you for writing your blog. I have learned a lot from your blog and you. Merry Christmas!

clarkola said...

Hi Stape-here's a question chasing after me that you/your readers may be able to shed light on-
if a person wants to develop a painting practice, what do you suggest.
I have read books-taken workshops and classes-visited museums-honed my eye-converted my living room to a studio-and am ready to hone my hand. My mind, however, is shorting out-the overload makes it sputter and go black...-DRAW-LOOK for edges,values,envelopes,temperatures,compositions-paint what you love-just paint! Paint like there's no tomorrow. Paint daily. Paint with painters.ZAP SPUTTER It's hard, agreed- and the longer I do it the more demanding I get with the results. So here comes winter and I want a practice that will help my skills develop-I want to humbly and simple become a better painter. Taking suggestions and visiting painters-(I live in a bit of Vermont)
clarkola@yahoo.com

billspaintingmn said...

Ok, I no sooner got away from the computer and realized what I just commented was stupid.

We should not settle for anything
but our best.

Effort is the abillity to continue to strive for our best. And only we know when it is our best.

High standards is what art is all about. *my opinion)

Forgive me for commenting from the hip. I have a bad of doing that.

John D. Wooldridge said...

Deb, that was Edgar Degas who stated that painting is hard when you know how. It's one of my favorite art related quotes. I'm not sure he had it entirely right, I'm not very good and it's still terribly hard...

Brady said...

The rework is looking good, it has a good sense of light and drama.

I love the painting at the top, it's very appropriate.

Julie Ford Oliver said...

I always appreciate your passing on priceless bits of art information. I have sanded but never wet sanded so will try it.
I took the time to go back through your older postings and you should make a book out of all the information in them.
Thank you.

art tyndall said...

i try very hard to put out the best painting i can and i know you do the same. i stuggle alone with my paintings, i am so glad you stuggle out loud so i know that i am not the only one. happy holidays...

Philip Koch said...

If ever there was the perfect illustration for Stape's topic of reworking paintings (sometimes over and over),
that Titian painting of Sisyphus has to take the cake. Hadn't seen this painting before.

I don't think I'll ever be able to bang away at a stubborn painting that doesn't want to behave without thinking of this Titian.

When you're fully inspired, starting out a new painting can feel like you're pulling along a bright helium filled baloon on a string. When you get into trouble with the same painting it feels exactly like you're bearing up some enormous weight. Guess old Titian must have struggled with these same problems too.

Antonin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Antonin said...

Ditto John.

Lucy said...

I find both examples very beautiful.. I guess it just depends on how it works with the rest of the painting. I love the idea of setting up a model in order to solve a problem.

Susan Roux said...

Hi Stape, I'm in that painstaking stage of my art journey. It has certainly become very hard and I noticed the goals we set for ourselves get tougher and tougher, much like your dissatisfaction with your original rocks. I remember reading in a letter sent by Monet to Renoir that he was now in a place where he was trying to paint the air that embodied the elements he previously focused on. He said it was an impossibility, yet he could not stop his obsession of trying.

It's only going to get as hard as you make it. You'll still be able to paint. You just might not like any of it! (But others will think it's spectacular...)

Happy New Year.

from Felicia Barnes said...

Hello. I just discovered your blog, found it by following another artist's link from his blog. I have gone back to read your earlier posts. I haven't got through them all yet, it will take weeks, but I just want to thank you for sharing such a wealth of information and experience. I am one of those starting late in life after raising a family, and I feel like a starving person who can't seem to get filled fast enough. I know that you know what you are talking about because your art work shows it. Thank you again.

billspaintingmn said...

Happy New Years Stapleton!

And to all the viewers that come to this blog!

May your year be blessed with new break throughs in painting and information! May it lead to growth and prosperity.

Bruce Wood said...

Excellent info again, Stape. Thanks for all of the blogs. (I read them all) They're full of great insights, and entertaining, too! When you make a book out of them, it'll be a must-have for landscape painters.
Thank you.